The Secret To A Happy Marriage: (What I Learned From Busting My A55)

I love my desk chair. It’s like an old friend.

We met fifteen years ago in an office supply store. There were many choices that day, but something about the chair spoke to me. Maybe it was because it was covered in puffy “Dude Black” leather that reminded me of every piece of furniture from my first bachelor pad, and had countless levers and knobs to adjust to varying degrees of comfort.

Not surprisingly, Gabby is not a huge fan of the chair. She never said anything to me for fear of hurting my feelings, but I noticed the subtle way she would close my office door anytime house guests came calling. Or solicitors. Or the UPS delivery guy.

Still, my chair and I have bonded. I have fallen into the seat each day and it has hugged me like an overzealous grandmother. It has adapted to my propensity to recline while on phone calls, giving way with ease.

But over the past few months I noticed a change. The hugs were still there, but my old friend seemed to wither under my weight, reclining past a level that felt comfortable. I adjusted the levers and knobs to try and relieve my muscle fatigue, but nothing seemed to help. I chalked it up to my own weak abs and vowed to “blast my core” on my next visit to the gym.

Then it happened.

I sat down hard today and received my customary hug, forgetting that aging, overzealous grandmothers sometimes develop hip problems. A millisecond after settling in, I heard a snap and felt myself accelerating backward. I called upon ab muscles that haven’t seen action since the Reagan administration, but they were away on vacation, so I just flailed my arms, plastered a terrified look on my face, and yelled,

“Oh no, here I go!”

Gabby heard my screams and turned to see me crash to the floor and come to rest in a position with my back to the ground like an astronaut awaiting liftoff. She immediately ran away. I called out to her and said, “I’m OK! Nothing’s broken!” hoping to catch her before she had amassed an armload of first aid gear. My assumptions were nullified when I heard her yell back between fits of laughter,

“Shut up! I’m going to pee my pants!”


* Reenactment:  Do not try this at home

Luckily, neither of us soiled ourselves or incurred an injury. But I learned a valuable lesson.

For months I had parked my keester in that chair, knowing deep down it was dying. I glanced underneath a few times looking for trouble spots with the same sense of urgency that one might look for a glass of chocolate milk at Mardi Gras. I hoped the remedy would be as simple as finding a giant toggle switch labeled, “Broken – Fixed,” tripped in the wrong direction, but I never found the problem. Soon, content to let life run its course, I got distracted by other more important things. Like work. Or watching funny cat videos. Or saying I was working when I was really watching funny cat videos.

And this is what led to my demise. Contentment that becomes complacent. And I’m not just talking about chairs here. I’m talking about everything.

Like houses.

Or cars .

Or marriages.


* Honest-to-goodness wedding cake topper from

It’s all too easy to coast through a relationship. In the early days, fueled by constant togetherness and that “new chair smell”, we are enamored with the things we love about our spouses. The way he laughs at all your jokes and hangs on every word of your stories. The way she pushes you to try new things and show you what it means to be truly selfless.

As time marches on, things change. You still love these wonderful things, but you simply don’t notice them as much. It’s not that you take them for granted. No. That would imply that you’ve forgotten their value. The little treasures have simply faded from your consciousness. Like the beautiful painting over your mantle, or the lovely view from your backyard deck. Your friends mention them and ask about them every time they come to visit.

And you reply,

“What? Oh... Yes… It is wonderful. Thanks for noticing.”

What we fail to realize is that this noticing is the first step in preventive maintenance for a relationship. Not just noticing that something has changed, like a faulty bolt on an office chair. These things obviously need attention so we can fix what’s broken. But there’s something even more important.

Noticing those things are exactly the same.

Because noticing breeds acknowledgement. Spoken words of support. And we underestimate the importance of verbalizing the good that you notice. It feels like overkill to mention yet again how much we love the little things. The way she tucks her hair behind her ear. Her ability to remember everyone’s birthday. Putting extra chocolate chips in your pancakes. The way she remembers to thank you for the little things.

It’s nothing new. So why bore her to death with the same old compliments?

Dr. John Gottman has been studying relationships since 1972. One of his most impressive skills is his ability to watch married couples fight and then predict with a 90% degree of accuracy whether or not they will stay married. While I don’t recommend inviting the guy to your next date night, you may want to check out what he has learned in studying relationships.

What Gottman discovered is that there is a magic “positivity ratio” in marriages that stay together. His research found that lasting relationships tend to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one.

And marriages bound for the scrap heap? 0.8 to 1.

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking:

Great! I am about 25 compliments in the hole, and it’s not even lunch time! Time to call the attorney!

But here’s the thing. We shouldn’t get hung up on the numbers. None of us can continue to reinvent ourselves every day and do dozens of new and surprising things to wow our wives. You would pull a groin if you tried. And we shouldn’t expect such variety from our spouses, either. It’s a recipe for disaster. You can’t keep an office chair from squeaking by oiling a different piece every day, and never returning to repeat the process.

Marital maintenance is about the tried and true. Not growing content with it, but noticing it. Putting on a fresh pair of eyes and seeing the things that have been there all along. A steady, day-to-day process of showing your appreciation through words and actions. And there can never be enough of this kind of love. A love that is patient and kind. Not envious, prideful, or boastful. A love not easily angered. One that keeps no record of wrongs.

So my prayer today is that I remember these words written nearly two-thousand years ago. The words spoken time and time again when people stand before God and unite themselves in marriage. It’s not flashy or fantastic. It’s a simple, selfless, plain-spoken love.

A love to bore you to tears.

Tears of gladness.

Tears of joy.

* Enjoy this post?  Subscribe at the upper right to make sure you see 'em all!  Or "Like" us on Facebook and take your chances.

3 Things I Learned From The Pains Of Childbirth: A Husband's Story

“Is this really what it feels like?” I asked. I was seated next to my wife on the floor during our childbirth class. A clothespin was clamped tightly to my earlobe. We were three minutes into a five-minute exercise designed to teach all the husbands what it feels like to experience labor pains. A red-hot piercing sensation was shooting up my ear, into my brain, and out my left nostril.

The nurse answered me.

“Not quite. To accurately simulate the pain, you would need about a thousand more clothespins. And they would be attached to a different part of your anatomy.”

Image * I'll allow you to use your imagination.

I heard one guy whimper. Meanwhile, I was breathing like a trucker with thirty miles to the next rest stop after some bad sushi.

Hoo hoo. Hee hee.

It wasn’t helping.

I glanced at my wife and instantly took pity on her. In a few months she would be delivering our first child. A boy. A direct descendant of yours truly, the guy with the giant melon. If a rubber mallet and a Tootsie roll pop had a baby, it would look like me.

I vowed to be there for my wife when the time came. Supportive and unflappabale.

Fast-forward to the delivery room.

My wife was writhing on the bed. She was going for a “natural” delivery, but nothing seemed natural about it. There were lots of wires and needles and smells and sounds. Doctors and nurses were coming and going. The entire room was a buzz of activity. And me?

I was…

How do you say…


Just. There.

Guys are problem solvers. We fix things. It’s what we do. But in that moment my wife was in excruciating pain and I was completely powerless. I wanted to help, but my idea of bringing a pickup truck into the delivery room, attaching a come-along to the front bumper, then tying the other end to the baby’s shoulders was quickly shot down. Something about HIPPA laws, I guess.

“Come here.”

Gabby motioned me to come to the side of the bed.

“Give me your hand,” she said.

My wife needed me, and this is how I could help. I held out my hand, ready to share a tender moment. To soothe and comfort her during a difficult experience. To whisper in her ear and stroke her hair and tell her it would be all right.

To be there for her.

So Gabby took my hand.

Let go of my pinkie.

And with my remaining fingers nestled in her palm, she squeezed my knuckles like she was cracking three walnuts. If my fingers had been made of charcoal briquettes, every contraction would have produced a pile of diamonds.


My body tensed. My eyes rolled into my head. I nearly lost control of my bowels. I retracted my ring finger from the bunch to try and save the others, but she just said, “No!” through gritted teeth and brought it back in again, the wedding ring digging into the other knuckles and grinding the joints.

I pulled the finger loose once again, and she angrily said,

“What are you doing!?”

I looked her in the eye and said,

“Honey. It really hurts my knuckles when you squeeze them together like that.”

The entire room fell silent. Machines stopped. Like in the movies when you hear the sound of a record scratching. I looked up and saw all of the nurses staring at me. They were all wearing surgical masks, but their eyes bore an expression of surprise mixed with outrage.

Then I looked toward Gabby. She said nothing. She didn’t have to. Every muscle of her face was contorted into a look which said, “I’ll let go of your fingers just as soon as I see you pass a fully-formed watermelon out your butthole.”

So I gave her the finger.

The ring finger.

Looking back, I can see that I learned many life lessons in that one simple moment, and not just the fact that I am an idiot with the pain threshold of a six-year-old. While I cannot claim to follow these truisms on a daily basis, I share them here as a refresher course for all of us, husbands and wives, who strive for a better marriage.

  1. Never underestimate the power of empathy: Sometimes life throws you problems you can’t solve and pain that won’t go away. Unless your spouse asks for your advice, don’t give it. Instead, just hold her hand and ask her to tell you more about what she’s feeling. You would be surprised the miracles that can emerge from simply saying “that sucks” and offering a hug.
  2. Compromise is not a dirty word: I once believed that a perfect marriage was one filled with win-win outcomes where no one had to sacrifice anything. I now realize that was a complete myth, like gluten-free pastries that actually taste good. But that doesn’t mean that marriage is a contest of wins and losses where husbands and wives count victories in hopes that it all balances out in the end. Quite the contrary. Marriage is husband and wife fighting tooth-and-nail against human nature, battling selfishness, pettiness and complacency. Sacrificing self to discover the joy born of a generous spirit.
  3. Embrace the pain: Since the day our first child was born, we have endured many trials in our marriage. Inconsolable babies. Sleepless nights. Solo parenting. Business travel. Lost income. Loss of loved ones. Dreams on hold. Dwindling quality time. The invisibility of motherhood. The anxiety of fatherhood. Miscommunication and misunderstanding. For all of this, our bond is stronger than before.

How do I know?

That day in the delivery room, my wife squeezed my hand as if life depended on it. Because life did depend on it. A child was born from her pain.

But something else happened, too.

My knuckle swelled up to the size of a pomegranate. Hurt like the devil. To this day, eight years later, I still can’t get that ring off my finger, no matter how hard I try. It’s stuck.   Always there for me.  A constant reminder that sacrificial love changes us all for the better.

If we let it.